Column: Could extreme heat be just what California needs to finally solve homelessness? By Scott Sumner
Could extreme heat be just what California needs to finally solve homelessness?
The answer to that question is actually pretty simple, I think. For decades, California politics has been dominated by a kind of “War on Homelessness” with the “state’s homelessness problem” being the focus of state spending. Politicians were supposed to solve homelessness, right? When they were elected governor and attorney general, then-California senator Leland Yee declared war on the homeless in 2005, saying his goal was to “end homelessness” in California by the end of his four years in office in January 2007—a target date that would have been reached by January 2009.
Yet, today, California has one of the highest homeless populations in the nation, housing costs are sky-high and rents are rising for a reason: The state spent $11 billion during Yee’s two-year stint, and the problem wasn’t solved. The solution to the problem that was supposed to be solved by Yee—ending homelessness—has never been fully embraced, but instead, has been relegated to an “experiment” that is now over. Even the most ardent opponents of an “end to homelessness” solution have admitted defeat on the issue.
The reason is that housing is an intractable problem. In the absence of public policy, housing remains an individual choice. Some people choose to live in the tent cities and in the cars. Some choose to live in the housing, even if it is substandard. Because of that choice, those people continue to be homeless.
The reality is that the situation is much more complex than “some people choose to live in the tent cities and in the cars.” The reality is that there are a significant amount of people who don’t make that choice. They can’t afford to live in the tent cities, and so they live in those tent cities. They can’t afford to live in the cars, but so they live in cars. This is where, in fact, the problem lies.
The root cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing in American communities. As housing costs in our cities and towns rise, they disproportionately impact low-